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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

GIS Day Celebrates the Critical Role of Modern Geographers

By Harry Minium

Hua Liu has heard the refrain from many unfamiliar with her field of study. Geography may be a fascinating subject, but a geography degree won't get you a good-paying job.

"I hear that a lot and I'm surprised because I see plenty of jobs in the field of geography," said Liu, an associate professor of geography at Old Dominion University.

"If students are good at what they're doing, they'll find a good job. This is a growing field."

Burning Glass Technologies, a company that analyzes the job market, confirms her optimistic outlook. Burning Glass indicates employment in the field will grow 12 percent per year in the United States through 2030.

The median salary for someone with skills in geographic information systems (GIS) is between $60,000 and $81,000, depending on your skill level, according to Burning Glass. With a master's degree, you can make more than $100,000.

"If you have GIS skills," Liu added, "you can be a good candidate for jobs in other fields as well."

In part to promote geography as a discipline and celebrate Geography Awareness Week, ODU is hosting a GIS Day from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Nov. 19 in the Hampton-Newport News rooms at the Webb University Center. It is open to the public.

The event, co-sponsored by the Hampton Roads GIS User Group, the Virginia Space Grant Consortium and the City of Norfolk, will include presentations, a Hampton Roads GIS forum, GIS web application contest and student map competitions. Door prizes will be raffled.

ODU offers Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Arts degrees in geography with concentrations in human geography, environmental geography, geographic information science, regional geography and geography education.

It also offers certificate programs in other disciplines. Liu said that students who major in civil engineering, oceanography, biology, ecology, health sciences, environmental studies, public health, political science and criminal justice often earn certificates to broaden their work skills.

GIS is a system for gathering, storing, analyzing and visualizing spatial-related information.

Liu has asked her students to map food scarcity in Norfolk and Portsmouth by locating grocery stores and evaluating whether neighborhoods are close enough for residents to have access to healthy food.

By evaluating neighborhood incomes and access to grocery stores, they found wide areas lacking close proximity to healthy options.

They were also asked to map crimes around Norfolk and evaluate possible hot spots.

Liu said ODU has geography graduates and/or GIS certificate students in almost every city in the region doing everything from working in urban planning to utilities to emergency management. Some alumni work in private industry offering services such as environmental consulting, land surveying and biological studies.

The City of Norfolk, for example, has interactive maps of every house in the city that includes photos, the sales history, tax history and other relevant information. With apartments growing like weeds downtown and in Ocean View, and with rundown homes all over the city being demolished and replaced, the data is always changing.

"There are so many jobs in which the skills we teach are needed," Liu said.

That includes using your phone get directions across town or across the country. The phone map services, which rely on satellites, have generally made paper maps obsolete. When travelers use Apple or Google Maps to get directions, someone has to constantly update the databases to keep up with new roads and new developments.

While ODU students are often given direction on class projects, including access to data, the only direction they have in the student map competition is to create your own project and submit a map showing the data compiled and how it would be useful.

Entries in recent years included an analysis of the range of guns at Ft. Monroe centuries ago and areas of Norfolk that would be flooded in a hurricane.

Liu said many people contribute to planning GIS Day, but she noted that Jonathan Leib, professor of geography and interim dean of the College of Arts & Letters, and the Department of Political Science and Geography have provided solid support on the event every year since it started in 2008.

"This has always been a group effort," she said.

For more information on the event, click here or contact Dr. Liu at HXLiu@odu.edu


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